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Colonialism and Race (Tony McFarlane)

The purpose of this seminar is to explore European encounters with, and subordination of, non-Europeans in the Americas. It will also assess the influence on European notions of human difference on the developing societies of the Americas.

For discussion

1. How did Europeans perceive Americans at the time of the Spanish discovery of, and early conquests in America?

2. To what extent did Europeans associate ethnic and skin colour differences with slavery and social inferiority before the American discoveries? Did Western religious texts from Judaism and Christianity foster racial hostility towards Africans?

3.Did colonial rule inevitably generate and promote ‘racism’? How did Spanish ideas about the duty of evangelisation influence their attitudes towards Indians? Did Christian teachings propagate or undermine the notion of difference among humans?

4. What forms did ‘racism’ take? Were there any significant differences between the attitudes of the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English attitudes towards Indians and Africans? If so, how are they explained?


Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages, [especially the first letter]

David A. Brading, The First America, [Chap 1-2]

David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Progress [Chap 3-4]

Winthrop Jordan, Black over White.[Chap 1-2]

Frank Snowden, Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks, [esp Chap 1]

Benjamin Braude, ‘The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identities in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods’, WMQ, 3rd series, 54: 1, (Jan. 1997) 103-42.

James Sweet, ‘The Iberian Roots of American Racist Thought’, WMQ, 3rd series, 54: 1, (Jan. 1997) 143-66.

For short background readings, see ‘Race: The Power of an Illusion.’

Brading, The First America [Chap 3-5]

T.Todorov, The Conquest of America [Part 3].

Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man (esp. Chapters 3-4).

C.R. Boxer, Race Relations in the Portuguese Colonial Empire, 1415-1825, [esp Chap 1 and 3].

Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas

Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America [esp. Chap. 2]

George M Fredrickson, The Arrogance of Race: Historical Perspectives on Slavery, Racism and Social Inequality [Chap 15]

Interview with Karen Ordahl Kupperman, on the English attitudes towards American Indians: For a full version of her ideas, see her article in WMQ, 54:1, 1997